In the quiet of summer for B’nai Israel, folks came together for 2 distinctly difficult and painful occasions and, in the spirit of the teaching from the Psalm: “Turn from bad and do good”, they turned the negative into positive.
In the first instance, members and friends joined family at the home of Larry Grossman to bring him comfort in the aftermath of the death of his father, Lester. Honoring the ritual of Shiva, the seven day period in which a mourner is comforted at home, we celebrated Lester’s life with the Maariv evening service followed by stories of Lester, shared by the family. Ironically, he was not an “observant” man; he had never been inclined to turn to religion and prayer as a source of strength and accessing life meaning. Yet, he was, in my opinion, a “religious” man, in his passion for living as the Mitzvah system teaches: to turn from bad and do good in every way that he could, each and every day.
What made the ritual of prayer so alive in that setting was the people who gathered with love, both for Larry, and manifested among each other; it was the palpable sense of B’nai Israel community and friends at its finest. Sitting in the room and learning so much more about Larry and his values, as he absorbed them from his father, was inspiring as well as comforting. Each night I was there, with an overlap of different people, the energy of warmth and care was an amazing antidote to the sadness of dealing with this loss.
Larry shared with me that his mom, who also was not inclined to ritual and synagogue participation was so touched by the experience that she is now interested in going to shul.
Given that facing death is a part of life that we all go through, the Jewish way of helping with that reality and transition was of comfort and inspiration to many of us who participated in that mitzvah of visiting the mourner in a time of loss.
A week later, a minyan and more of us gathered at B’nai Israel again to confront sadness and sorrow on a community and historic level, the observance of Tisha B’Av, marking the date in the Hebrew calendar of the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, along with many other tragic events in Jewish history that “happened” to occur on that date. Again, the sadness of the occasion was transcended by the nurturing and love that emanated through the people that attended. Even as Tisha B’Av is a day whose future (sooner, than not, hopefully!) is to be transformed into a day of rejoicing, on that day that Israel is safe and secure and accepted by the family of nations, so we “tasted” (on this fast day) the spirit of some of that happiness in having each other with whom to share this commemoration.
Just as Tisha B’Av represents the start of a gradual ascent from the abyss of despair to the heights of human partnership with God in the Days of Awe that await us in September, so we can appreciate in a tangible way the meaning of the month of Elul (beginning August 10 and 11), that prepares us for these days. Elul represents drawing near to God; the letters of the month represent the words from Solomon’s Song of Songs, recited by a bride to her groom under the Chupah: “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”. Elul is a month of comfort and hope, reminding us that anything good is possible when we remember we are not alone and have each other to turn to.
How wonderful to have a community that shows how the teachings work…how we actually can change direction and turn bad into good…
What a great way to prepare for the Days of Awe which I look forward to sharing with you in September.